Broken Britain 23: Johnson government pronounces that death and destruction inflicted by a profitable ally does not violate human rights
The UK government suspended arms sales to Saudi Arabia last year, after a Court of Appeal ruling that it should assess whether the Saudi government had violated international human rights law in its military campaign in Yemen.
Shamefully, a government inquiry has now decided that there was no “pattern” of Saudi Arabia air strikes that breached international law, only “isolated incidents” of violations. It has now lifted the suspension.
As Helen Warrell points out, this decision was made despite the fact that hundreds of attacks on residential areas, schools, hospitals, civilian gatherings and agricultural land and facilities have been documented.
Ceren Sagir reminds us that since the bombing of Yemen began in March 2015, Britain has licensed £5.3 billion worth of arms to the Saudi regime.
This brutal bombardment is only possible because of the complicity and support of arms dealing governments like the UK
She reports that Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) is considering legal options to challenge the decision. Andrew Smith (CAAT) called the arms sales “illegal, immoral and deadly”. He said that the decision to resume them can only prolong the war and increase the bloodshed:
“The government is always telling us how robust its arms export controls are, but nothing could be further from the truth. This brutal bombardment is only possible because of the complicity and support of arms dealing governments like the UK.”
He also criticised the government’s claim that possible breaches of IHL were “isolated incidents” as there have been hundreds of them:
“These are not statistics; they are people’s lives. Saudi forces have bombed schools, hospitals and homes. They have turned gatherings into massacres and inflicted a humanitarian crisis on Yemen.”
Donald Trump, unlike the British government, at least acknowledged the horror being inflicted by these weapons, and felt obliged to ‘wash his hands’ by shifting the blame to the Saudi military.
If attacks on residential areas, agricultural land, schools, hospitals and civilian gatherings do not violate human rights, can the minister tell us what would?
Flooding struck Aden in April, leaving several areas submerged in sewage and water for weeks and this month over 600 people have died in Yemen’s capital.
In a detailed account, the World Health Organisation says there is no way of assessing how many other deaths there have been in this war ravaged country.
Andrew Smith (Campaign Against the Arms Trade) said that UK-made Typhoon Eurofighter jets (above) have played a key role in the devastating Saudi-led bombing of Yemen and despite the humanitarian crisis and the outbreak of Covid-19, the war is still raging. He ended:
“We are in unprecedented times and this should not be happening”.
British arms manufacturer BAE is also responsible for the maintenance and support of the kingdom’s 72 jets and has continued to supply military equipment, including spare parts, to Saudi Arabia throughout the Covid-19 crisis.
New Labour MP Sam Tarry (right) asked the Secretary of State for Defence two questions:
- why have weekly flights continued from a BAE Systems factory in Warton to a military base in Saudi Arabia from where air strikes on Yemen are launched
- and why those flights have been assessed as essential during the covid-19 lockdown.
Though a Saudi-led coalition of Gulf states announced a ceasefire in April, the Yemen Data Project reports that the bombing has continued, with three civilians injured by an air strike as recently as May 2nd.
But as its AGM had to be cancelled, BAE has been spared angry questions about its trade in weapons – an annual ordeal.
Industry editor Alan Tovey notes that there is one bonus to the lockdown: BAE’s annual meeting, scheduled for May 7, is normally a testing time for the board, with proceedings routinely disrupted by anti-arms activists who gatecrash and forcefully question BAE’s trade in weapons.
He adds that BAE’s “sleepless enemies” see opportunities in the dispersed working.
BAE’s Systems’ chief executive Charles Woodburn (left) wouldn’t give details to Tovey, but confirms that BAE has seen a spike in attempted cyber intrusions since the pandemic hit.
Sadly, Woodburn describes higher military spending as a way of stimulating the economy once the current crisis passes. No going back? Or business as usual?
COVID-19 bulletin 10: does the military’s welcome assistance outweigh the effects of government funding choices & foreign policy?
The Ministry of Defence has set up a “COVID Support Force”, a 20,000-strong group of military personnel who are on standby (Helen Warrell, FT).
Armed forces personnel and NHS staff aboard a large Chinook helicopter
Commander Chris Knowles said the team has had experience of moving contagious patients since its deployment to the Ebola crisis in west Africa. Further military airlift teams will be based at Kinloss Barracks in Moray, Scotland; Odiham in Hampshire; Yeovilton in Somerset; and Leeming, in North Yorkshire.
The Guardian reports that key military officials will help to ensure that food and medicines reach vulnerable people isolated at home during the coronavirus crisis.
The Ministry of Defence has sent a team to support the Cabinet Office in tackling online misinformation – part of COVID Support Force effort in bolstering the UK’s coronavirus defences. It will help to identify and tackle fake online news about the pandemic and set its sights on an increasing number of fraudulent phishing scams.
Military engineers and logistics experts have helped to design nine field hospitals, while other members of the armed forces have delivered oxygen and personal protective equipment to health facilities.
The British Army helped to set up a new temporary hospital at a site in Birmingham’s national Exhibition Centre, another NHS Nightingale Hospital based at the ExCel Centre and a hospital at Manchester Central Convention Complex, formerly known as the GMEX. It is also helping to convert Glasgow’s SEC Centre into a temporary NHS hospital and more details about the army’s work maybe read on the ForcesNet website.
But many sources are protesting about ongoing financial support for the arms industry and ‘questionable’ military action at this time
They echo the words of Dr Ian Davis, a trustee of a charity, Maternal and Childhealth Advocacy International and director of NATOWatch in 2014: “At a time when questionable missions are being contemplated to address threats from the so-called Islamic State in the Middle East, NATO boots on the ground to fight infectious disease seems like a more urgent and appropriate response for a military-political alliance”. In 2020 he writes a measured account of NATO’s ‘absolute maximum’ contribution at this time.
Support going to the defence industry is deemed “essential” during the COVID-19 crisis
George Monbiot reports that a month ago, just as the coronavirus began racing across the UK, the government announced that it had raised military spending by £2 billion to £41.5 billion. Our military force, it claimed, is “the tip of the spear for a resurgent Global Britain”.
UK, USA and France are continuing to give logistical and intelligence support to Saudi Arabia, which is using British weaponry to bomb schools, markets and hospitals in Yemen already suffering the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and which has now had its first COVID case.
Mark Shapiro, who now lives in California, drew attention to a scathing article by Sarah Lazare (left). It was published in a site founded by author and historian James Weinstein in order to “identify and clarify the struggles against corporate power now multiplying in American society.”
Sarah records that military officials, with the help of Congress and defense industry lobbying groups, have fought to ensure that tanker and missile manufacturing sites remain open. Though workers will be at risk of infection, the profits CEOs and shareholders will be maintained. Her summary: the U.S. weapons industry is being kept afloat at a time when healthcare systems, and millions of ordinary Americans, are sinking.
She adds that this is further evidence of her country’s ‘militaristic bent’ and the political muscle of the companies that profit from the arms industry. This is also the case in Britain. Assistance to arms companies is depriving this and most other countries of the healthcare and social spending needed to reduce and address routine illness and disease, leaving them ill-equipped to deal with epidemics and pandemics such as COVID-19.
Media 93: MSM downplays Britain’s role in the latest Yemeni killing & the BBC omits UN experts’ charge
Today, the BBC reports that UN Group of Regional and International Eminent Experts on Yemen will present a report to the UN Human Rights Council next month. It says that the experts believe war crimes may have been committed by all parties to the conflict in Yemen.
Yemeni government forces, the Saudi-led coalition backing them, and the rebel Houthi movement have made little effort to minimise civilian casualties and there have been attacks on residential areas in which thousands have died. The warring parties are also accused of arbitrary detentions, torture, enforced disappearances and recruiting children.
But the BBC failed to mention that the Group of Experts’ report notes that coalition air strikes have caused most direct civilian casualties. The airstrikes have hit residential areas, markets, funerals, weddings, detention facilities, civilian boats and even medical facilities.
Yemenis dig graves for children in the wake of the latest air strike
Lest we forget, the remote-sounding Saudi-led coalition is supported by UK arms sales (including cluster bombs manufactured in the UK) and technical assistance. British military personnel are complicit – deployed in the command and control centre responsible for Saudi-led air strikes on Yemen, giving access to lists of targets.
The Saudi-led coalition struck last Wednesday and Thursday. Following the attacks on Wednesday, four families in northwestern Yemen, who had decided to leave their homes to avoid such danger, were in a vehicle when airstrikes hit again.
Though Britain’s mainstream media fully reported the killings of 9th August, a search finds no reference to those on the 24th.
CNN did full justice to this atrocity, recalling also that earlier this month, a Saudi-led airstrike hit a school bus carrying scores of boys in Yemen. The attack killed 51 people, including 40 children, according to the Health Ministry. CNN has established that the bomb used in that attack was a 500-pound (227 kilogram) MK 82 bomb made by Lockheed Martin, one of the top US defence contractors.
CNN adds: “There have been growing calls in the US Congress for Saudi Arabia, a key US ally in the Middle East, to do more to prevent civilian deaths in Yemen, where three years of conflict have taken a terrible toll”.
The latest news: yesterday, Barbara Starr, CNN Pentagon Correspondent, reports that the Pentagon has issued a warning to Saudi Arabia that it is prepared to reduce military and intelligence support for its campaign against rebels in neighbouring Yemen if the Saudis don’t demonstrate they are attempting to limit civilian deaths in airstrikes – adding “It is not clear if President Donald Trump, who views the Saudis as an essential ally, would agree to a reduction of support”.
But, like the proverbial three monkeys, the failing British government hears, sees and speaks no evil.
People in Iraq, Libya and Yemen are desperate for strong and stable government. Theresa May is partly why they don’t have it, says Steve Beauchampé.
The General Election campaign has returned after last week’s brief hiatus and with it a volley of unedifying Conservative attacks on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s historic support for a united Ireland and the Palestinian people, highlighting the most tenuous of links and associations.
Yet serious examination of Jeremy Corbyn’s activism shows him to have been on the right side of history and ahead of mainstream public opinion time and again, standing up for anti-racist and anti-apartheid causes, refugees and asylum seekers, gender equality, the LGBT community, environmental issues, animal rights and the rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination and self-expression long before such things gained widespread acceptance. Perhaps not surprising then that when you campaign in support of so many marginalised groups and outsider causes that you will from time to time encounter those whose frustrations and sense of powerlessness has led them to step outside of the law.
As regards Irish republicanism Corbyn’s attempts to achieve conflict resolution through dialogue may at times have been naive, but were his actions so dissimilar to the approach adopted around the same time by MI5 and later by John Major, both of whom ultimately realised that a decades-old conflict, whose death toll was inexorably rising, could not be won solely by military means?
But whilst Jeremy Corbyn’s peripheral rôle in the republican cause has been (and continues to be) pored over and examined by his opponents half a lifetime later, the record and judgement of Theresa May with regard to much more recent UK military interventions requires equally forensic scrutiny given her claims to be a fit and proper person to lead Britain.
And frankly, history’s judgement on this aspect of Theresa May is unlikely to be generous. After first being elected an MP in 1997, she voted in favour of the 2003 invasion of Iraq (having already supported the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in the frenzied post-9/11 atmosphere). Like so many of her colleagues on the opposition Conservative benches at the time, May failed to hold the Blair government to account despite the widely expressed caution of many experts over both the reasons for going to war and the lack of a post-conflict plan to stabilise Iraq. Instead, May limply and dutifully gave her support.
What followed for Iraqis has been almost fifteen years of societal breakdown throughout large parts of this once architectural, cultural and scholastic gem of a nation, with swathes of land occupied until recently by Islamic State and a fracturing of the country along religious, sectarian and tribal lines in a way that will be hard, if not impossible, to heal.
By 2011, and as the then Home Secretary in the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition government, Theresa May backed the Anglo/Franco-led military action in Libya, which despite its billing as merely creating a no-fly zone to protect civilians and rebel fighters, mainly located in the east of the country, quickly escalated into regime change, culminating in the overthrow and lynching of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Again, as a senior government minister Theresa May ignored warnings that historic tribal divisions, the absence of a strong and stable government or a long-term strategic plan would quickly fracture the country.
Six years on and Libya exists in little more than name only. There is no central government, armed militias and feudal warlords hold considerable power, whilst every international Islamist terror group of substance now boasts a flourishing branch office in the country from where they increasingly export their murderous ideologies. And every month, if not every week, scores of desperate migrants, people who long ago lost all control of their lives, drown off the Libyan coast whilst seeking something better than the hell that their lives have spiralled into.
Learning nothing from history and the consequences of her own actions, in August 2013 Theresa May supported Prime Minster David Cameron’s unsuccessful attempt to persuade MPs to back UK air strikes against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The absence yet again of a coherent post-conflict strategy was sufficient for Labour leader Ed Miliband to refuse his party’s support to Cameron, who narrowly lost a House of Commons vote on the issue. The main beneficiaries of such an intervention, with its intention to downgrade Assad’s military capabilities (if not to remove him from power), would likely have been the plethora of extremist groups engaged in the Syrian civil war, principal amongst them the then nascent Islamic State.
Since becoming Prime Minister Theresa May has continued the supply of British made weapons and military expertise to Saudi Arabia for use in its war crime-strewn bombing campaign in Yemen, a campaign which has killed countless numbers of civilians and is fast creating yet another failed state in the region.
Iraq, Libya and increasingly Yemen: countries where British military interventions have created power vacuums swiftly filled by a combination of anarchy, lawlessness, violence and economic depravation, with catastrophic consequences and relentless, unending misery for millions of civilians.
Theresa May supported each and every one of these military interventions. Jeremy Corbyn opposed all of them. So whose judgement would you trust?
May 29th 2017
Written for The BirminghamPress.com
Russia? Boris, Andrew: our government continues to aid or participate in killing civilians & suspects in several countries
Foreign secretary Boris Johnson has said that Russia is in danger of becoming a “pariah nation” if it continues to bomb civilian targets in Syria – is he absent -minded or hypocritical?
As Steve Schofield summarises, “Through invasion by ground forces and through air-strikes involving missiles and drones, the US/UK military axis has been responsible for the collapse of societies that has left hundreds of thousands of civilians dead or injured and millions more as refugees.
For years we have assaulted other countries, ruining infrastructure and killing civilians as well as untried suspects; a few examples:
- The FT in 2013 highlighted a report by Amnesty International which concluded that at least 19 civilians in North Waziristan had been killed by just two drone attacks. In July 18 casual labourers, including a 14-year-old boy, were killed near the Afghan border.
- The Bureau of Investigation’s 2014 report: America’s drone war has secretly escalated; it noted that it took President Obama three years to publicly refer to his use of drones.
- In this period Bureau records show drones reportedly killed at least 236 civilians – including 61 children. And according to a leaked CIA record of drone strikes, seen by the McClatchy news agency, the US often did not know who it was killing. In the year after September 2010 at least 265 of up to 482 people killed by drones ‘were “assessed” as Afghan, Pakistani and unknown extremists’.
- Agence France Presse reported from Afghanistan: Afghan officials said that a NATO airstrike Friday killed five civilians and wounded six others. District governor Mohammad Amin said, “At around 3:30 a.m., U.S. forces conducted an airstrike in Aab Josh village of Baraki Barak district. The airstrike hit a residential house killing five and wounding six civilians”. Niaz Mohammad Amiri, Logar province’s acting governor, added, “U.S. forces were chasing down Taliban militants, but mistakenly bombarded a house. As a result, civilians were victims of the attack”.
- Edward Luce in the FT pointed out that there is no treaty governing the use of military drones as for the use of nuclear weapons. We summarised his article with added links to Rand Corporation and Stimson Centre.
- For almost ten years the Central Intelligence Agency has been able to strike targets with impunity. At the moment, Barack Obama orders drone assassinations without having to admit it, or explain himself to anyone. Hundreds of militants have been killed in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere. But hundreds more civilians, perhaps thousands, have also been accidentally killed.
- Josie Ensor’s report from Istanbul says that a US air strike killed nearly 60 civilians, including children, in Syria after the coalition mistook them for Islamic State fighters. Some eight families were hit as they tried to flee in one of the single deadliest strikes on civilians by the alliance since the start of its operations in the war-torn country.
- A Saudi-led coalition air strike hit a hospital operated by Medecins Sans Frontieres in northern Yemen, killing at least 11 people and wounding 19, the aid group said. And who is in the coalition? US and Britain have been deploying their military personnel in the command and control centre responsible for Saudi-led air strikes on Yemen, having access to lists of targets.
- The global charity Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) told Reuters news agency that more than 40 civilians, including an eight-year-old in critical condition, were admitted to Abs Hospital after an air strike in the Mustaba district, a region largely controlled by the Iran-allied Houthi militia.
Stuart Richardson, Secretary of the Birmingham branch, offers the sanest contribution from Stop the War Coalition (StWC). StWC is opposing the calls for the implementation of “No-Fly Zones” – after the Libyan disaster – and calls for the bombing of the Assad regime by the RAF and allied air forces. It argues that the only solution is the withdrawal of Russia, US, UK and France leaving the Syrian people to determine their own future.
Now thrive the armourers: unrepentant ‘special friends’, Britain, Saudi Arabia and the United States
Though cluster bombs were banned under international law in 2008, Amnesty International has found a UK-manufactured cluster bomb in Yemen and, according to Defense News, the United States has sold Riyadh cluster bombs and millions of dollars’ worth of training, information gathering, weapons and aerial refuelling support to the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen.
The International Business Times reports that for over a year, Human Rights Watch has recorded attacks on Yemen by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, killing civilians and destroying homes, schools and hospitals. They have used cluster bombs, which scatter explosive ‘bomblets’ across a wide area and eject a stream of molten metal designed to pierce metal armour as they detonate. After this, they explode into thousands of fragments killing and maiming all in the vicinity. If they don’t explode on impact, they become a danger to civilians on the ground. More on the technology here.
Amnesty International calls on the British government, which has rejected claims that the Saudi Arabian-led coalition has violated the laws of war during its conflict in Yemen:
- to stop the UK selling arms to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition that could be used in the Yemen conflict;
- to launch an immediate inquiry into how UK cluster bombs ended up in Yemen and
- to ensure the Saudi Arabia-led coalition destroys all remaining stocks of UK cluster munitions.
Has the Obama administration blocked sales of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia?
A few days later, Defense News and many other media outlets reported that the Obama administration has moved to block sales of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen, amid reports of mounting civilian casualties there. However no link was given and a search for the report in the named journal Foreign Policy found no reference on its site.
(Update, reader Felicity Arbuthnot found a link in another sticle: http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/05/27/exclusive-white-house-blocks-transfer-of-cluster-bombs-to-saudi-arabia – subscription only).
This move is said to follow rising criticism by U.S. lawmakers of America’s support for Saudi Arabia’s role in the year-long Yemeni conflict – not because of concern about the civilian casualties and infrastructure damage inflicted, but, it is alleged, due to increasing disappointment at the Saudis’ failure to do more to fight the militants of the Islamic State group in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.
Saudi Arabia, with Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, UAE, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Sudan led a gulf coalition airstrike against Yemen in March. The Obama administration is supporting the Saudi-led air war with intelligence, air refueling operations and expediting weapons deliveries and other crucial support.
Today a Moseley reader draws our attention to the news reported by the Guardian that – eager to follow suit – David Cameron has extolled the ‘defence’ products made by BAE Systems and assured the company that every effort would be made by the UK government to support the selling of their equipment to Saudi Arabia, Oman and other countries.
According to a BBC report, Houthis – aka Shiite Muslim rebels – are seeking change from weak governance, corruption, resource depletion and poor infrastructure, unemployment, high food prices, limited social services and large-scale displacement.
Tens of thousands of Yemenis have taken to the streets of the capital, Sana’a, to voice their anger at the Saudi invasion.
Death and destruction: the fruits of Saudi, UK, USA labour
Thanks to a Moseley reader for the two leads.
The Argus reports that MP Caroline Lucas and Jenny Jones (now in the Lords) are calling for answers on whether the Government has formulated a targeted policy and if so, what that policy is, and whether it is legal. Supported by human rights charity Reprieve and law firm Leigh Day, they are highlighting the lack of parliamentary approval for the Government’s adoption of the American style programme.
A Letter Before Action (LBA) was sent to the firm on behalf of the MP and the baroness highlighting a lack of consistency in justifications for the strikes and a lack of transparency.
Caroline Lucas said: “The Government appears to have adopted a ‘Kill Policy’ in secret –without Parliamentary debate or the prospect of proper independent scrutiny.
Sanctioning lethal drone attacks on British citizens is a significant departure from previous policy, as well as potentially unlawful, and it’s deeply concerning that it has occurred without appropriate oversight. By refusing to publish the legal basis for these attacks, the Government has created a legal and accountability vacuum. We need to be able to determine whether the attacks – and what they signify in terms of Government policy – meet the robust conditions set out in international and domestic law.”
They point out that the war will be carried out with the cruellest, most destructive and strategically most useless of weapons, the airborne bomb which is “now the all-purpose totemic answer to ‘something must be done’.
The futility of such interventions in Iraq, Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq again and Libya is pointed out by Simon Jenkins. He writes:
“There is no evidence of the drones’ strategic effectiveness. The killing of Pashtun militants has done nothing to halt the Taliban’s path back to power in Afghanistan. It has merely replaced possibly moderate elders with tribal hot-heads. Obama’s first drone attack in Yemen killed one al-Qaida suspect, 14 women and 21 children.
“In a six-year period to 2011 an estimated 3,000 innocents were killed in Pakistan alone, including 176 children. Such casual slaughter would have an infantry unit court-martialled and jailed. Drones are immune.
“For the past year, the skies over Syria and Iraq have seen the most devastating deployments of air power in recent times. There have been a reported 6,000 coalition air strikes, manned and unmanned. Some 20,000 bombs have been dropped.
“If ever in the past quarter century there was a clear humanitarian case for intervening to pacify, reorder and restore good governance to a failed state, it must be in Syria. Dropping bombs is politically cosmetic. It is trying to look good to a domestic audience; a cruel delusion, a pretence of humanity, ostentatious, immoral, stupid”.
As the plight of migrants from destabilised countries dominates the media, our other special friend inflicts a far higher death toll
Will Saudi Arabia’s financial ‘strains’ end their devastation of Yemen?
In June a barrage of news accumulated about Saudi Arabia, aka Britain’s biggest arms market last year, and a brief overview of the last quarter was given on this site.
A month later, Fahad al-Mubarak, the governor of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency, said in that Riyadh had issued its first $4bn in local bonds. Simeon Kerr and Anjli Raval of the FT see the country’s plan to raise $27bn by the end of the year, as the “starkest sign yet of the strain lower oil prices are putting on the finances of the world’s largest oil exporter”. They add:
“Saudi Arabia’s resort to further domestic borrowing highlights the challenges facing the region’s largest economy amid one of the steepest falls in the oil price in recent decades”.
Economists estimate their deficit will reach SR400bn this year amid falling revenues and spending commitments, including the continuing war in Yemen. Detail here.
Earlier this month the Telegraph surmised that Saudi Arabia might ‘go broke’ before the US oil industry buckles. It quotes the CIA explanation for this aggressive, destructive behaviour:
“The Saudi royal family is leading the Sunni cause against a resurgent Iran, battling for dominance in a bitter struggle between Sunni and Shia across the Middle East. “Right now, the Saudis have only one thing on their mind and that is the Iranians. They have a very serious problem. Iranian proxies are running Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon,” said Jim Woolsey, the former head of the US Central Intelligence Agency”.
Update, destruction and death dealing unabated:
Yesterday, Ben Norton reported that approximately 4,500 people, many civilians, have been killed in Yemen since the Saudi-led coalition began bombing 150 days ago, according to the UN. 23,000 more have been wounded.
13 Yemeni teaching staff and four children were killed by a Saudi air strike on August 20. Two days before, coalition bombing in the Amran province took the lives of 17 civilians, injuring 20 more. UNICEF condemned what it called the “senseless bloodshed.” A Red Cross spokeswoman said the violence in Ta’iz, in southern Yemen, in just one day on August 21 left 80 people dead.
To our shame and theirs, with weapons bought from Britain and other arms dealers and troops also trained by their allies, the Saudis continue to lay Yemen waste.